19 October 2016

Rwanda: Survivors, Activists Say Simbikangwa Appeal Could Further Expose France's Role in Genocide

Photo: Nadege Imbabazi/The New Times
A visitor looks at photos of children killed during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi at Kigali Memorial Centre in Gisozi.

Rights activists hope next week's appeal by Genocide convict Pascal Simbikangwa before a French court will further demonstrate to the people of France how their country has deliberately remained a safe haven for mass murderers.

Simbikangwa, a former intelligence tsar in the genocidal government, was in 2014 convicted to life imprisonment in a French court and appealed against the decision, with the process slated to begin on Tuesday.

Genocide survivors and activists alike have for the past two decades accused France of remaining a major den for masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, that claimed over a million people.

The appeal process at Bobigny Assize Court in Paris has been scheduled for between October 25 and December 9, according to available information.

"Let us hope the submission will not stay confined to the courtroom. Fellow (French) citizens and all people worldwide need to know that a genocide was perpetrated in Rwanda in 1994," said Alain Gauthier, the president of Collectif des Parties Civiles pours le Rwanda (CPCR).

Gauthier, a French national, has over the years, through his civil society organisation, championed for the arrest and trial of Genocide perpetrators, especially those who continue to live in France.

"The world must know that the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity have found refuge in France where they are to be judged."

Before conviction, the five week trial of Simbikangwa had thrown some new light on France's alleged complicity in the 1994 Genocide.

Meanwhile, the president of Ibuka, an umbrella body of Genocide survivors' associations, has said that, as survivors, they would like to see "real justice" done in France, if the criminals cannot be extradited to Rwanda where the crimes were committed.

Speaking to The New Times, Prof. Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu said the trial was a good opportunity to show the role France played in preparing and executing the Genocide.

Simbikangwa, a close friend and relative to former president Juvénal Habyarimana, is said to have been very influential during the Genocide.

During the 2014 trial, praying for a life sentence, prosecution said that he was not only guilty of genocide but also a "negationist."

Prosecutors said Simbikangwa was member of an inner-circle which planned the Genocide and was one of the founders of hate media outlet, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM).

Simbikangwa was third in command in Rwanda's then intelligence services, and a captain in the presidential guard. Nearly 14 years after evading capture, he was arrested in 2008 while living under an alias on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte.

In March 2014, he became the first Genocide suspect to be tried and sentenced in France.

However, activists maintain there is nothing particularly historic about the trial in France, a country long accused of sheltering senior figures suspected of involvement in the Genocide.

CPCR said that this conviction and another one rendered shortly after that involving two other genocidaires Octavien Ngenzi and Tito Barahira did not attract much media attention in France.

"The silence of a big number of the media was astounding... doesn't this "unimportant genocide" interest our fellow citizens?" he said.

It must be said, Gauthier reiterated, that French political authorities, still refuse to recognise the role that their coalition government had at the time when innocent men, women, children, the elderly and babies, were killed.

"Had Nazis been on trial and sentenced, would we see the same indifference?" Gauthier posed.

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